Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Frustrating ticks

The Safari has been out and about to all sort of weird and wonderful places this last week. The week started well with friend LGB phoning to say a couple of Little Terns were on their way to wards us past his watchpoint down the prom. Great stuff and a big thank you as they aren't a species we can guarantee to see on Patch 2. The eventually came past but were a little distant to 'enjoy' properly still they made it on to the list, Little Tern (147, P2 #48). More enjoyable was the lone Black Tern (14, P2 #49) milling around going back and forth with 11 Arctic Terns followed by a couple of Common Terns (149, P2 #50). So at last we got to see one of the throng of Black Terns that passed through the country last week, what a relief! No chance of getting any of those on the Year Bird Challenge though, the easy two we'll pick up later in the season but the Black Tern won't now be entered in the challenge unless something weird happens.
Something weird happened when one of our work colleagues told us there was a dragonfly dead on the windowsill in the main hall. Further investigation revealed it wasn't (quite) dead and wasn't a dragonfly but a Blue Tailed Damselfly. We'd seen plenty of pics of Large Red Damselflies on social media but none of this species. It was a windy day with the wind from the east so it could have come from anywhere, even from our work's pond just a few feet away - a very thorough check of the edges and reed stems gave us no exuvia so it was most likely from elsewhere. We put it outside but didn't really rate its chances.

A visit to the zoo to help prep up for a Bioblitz later in the month gave us the opportunity for a wander round. We were looking for native species rather than at the exotics but we have to say the Aardvark is very cute if not particularly cuddly. By far the best find was among the dinosaurs, a species of Blood Bee, Sphecodes sp, we've not seen anything like it before and a look on the national database would suggest almost no-one else has locally either. They warrant further investigation and better pics! This one is a phone-pic as we didn't have a camera with us. One of the species is known as the Sand Pit Blood Bee and this one was in what could loosely be called a sand pit...but there are other very similar looking species.

Next up LCV and the children came to visit. A twitch was called for on Saturday morning when we just had to go and have a look at the two Wood Sandpipers that had been found the previous day, another species we can't guarantee to see in any particular year. See them we did but always at some distance in the muddy hollow of a farmer's field. Still it's always good to see a Wood Sandpiper (150, YBC #123).
One of the reasons LCV had come up was to go to see the now resident Pallid Harrier in Bowland - just about the most dangerousd place in England for any type of harrier, or falcon, or hawk, or anything else with a hooky beak. The pics floating round Twitter, Facebook, Flickr etc were impressive so we had to go. An early start was called for so the kids were in the car by 07.00, a bit cruel on a Sunday morning especial with the prospect of a 3 mile hike ahead of them, little P is only seven. But they didn't know about the length of the hike at that time - it was a surprise to come later!
Once parked up it didn't take long for the youngsters to find their stride and they soon covered 'Stage 1' - kept them in a better state of mind to have visible targets to reach on the hike. Not far into Stage 2 we heard a Cuckoo caliing from up the fell t oour left. Almost at the top it was and just out of effective range of the lens but we fired away anyway. Cuckoo (151, YBC #124) being mobbed by what we assume to be a Meadow Pipit.
A little further on we heard a Tree Pipit singing (152) but were unable to get a pic.
We were making good time despite slowing down to look for Common Lizards in any likely spot but sadly we didn't find any to show the children. At the bridge we peered into the water to look for fish, there's usually a few but none today. There was a Grey Wagtail (YBC #124) collecting food for its recently fledged chick on the rocks around the concrete spillway.
Unfortunately we didn't see the adult feeding the chick. A Common Sandpiper was also hunting invertebrates between the rocks nearby.
Birders coming down the hill, they must have been early risers!, told us the Pallid Harrier was still about and with that news the hill didn't seem so steep. We reached the fairly substantial crowd and had our breakfast picnic to the news that it had flown a good distant off and into the next valley. Not good but there was nothing to be done apart from watch and wait and enjoy the serenity of the mountain. LCV caught sight of a distant Ring Ouzel (153) and managed a digi-scoped shot.
And from the hillside opposite our vantage point we heard the go-back go-back go-back calls of Red Grouse (154) several times before spotting one and LCV took another digi-scoped pic.
Eventually the cry went up that the Pallid Harrier (155, YBC #126) was up and sky-dancing over the hill at the head of the valley. We could just about make it out in the bins and even through LCV's scope the views weren't much better. At about two miles away it was almost definitely the worst views of a Lifer we've ever had. The whole group hoped and prayed it would come closer, it did but not by much. At about a mile way it was just photographable, nothing like the awesome pics we'd seen over the past few days.
What made matters worse is by the time we'd got half way down the hill unbeknown to us it was doing a hat and cane routine right over the heads  of the watchers we'd just been standing with, but being time limited we'd had to leave - cruel!!!
On the way back down we kept eyes and ears open, hearing Siskins but not the hoped for and seen by everyone else Crossbills in the woods and spotting a family of Mallards shooting the rapids on the river.
There were plenty of Sheep about but most were shy and didn't want their photos taken.
This one was suckling a well grown lamb but to fit all the action in the frame of the big lens we'd have had to have backed off that far we'd have fallen ar*e over breakfast in to the river!
The riverside woods near the bridge almost at the end of the walk gave us two nice birds. The first we heard first doing it's lovely thrush-like warble and using the song we located it high in the branches of an Alder tree on the far bank. Stunning views with the bins of one of our favourite birds, a male Redstart (156). It took a bit of finding in the twiggery of the treetops with the camera and once we had found it found it a b*gger to focus on - we know - - shoulda used manual focus!!!). A millisecond before we pressed the shutter button it stopped singing and did a flit.
Just our luck!!! But hey-ho it is an identifiable blur so counts towards the Year Bird Challenge (YBC #127).
A few yards further on a small group of birders and photographers had gathered and were looking up at the top of an Ash tree on our side of the stream. A cracking male Pied Flycatcher (157, TBC #128)

Ice cream ended a memorable but slightly frustrating walk in the hills.
Back at work on Monday we saw the first of the season's Cinnabar moths emerging from the grass in our wildflower area. What little belters they are!
In other late news we've been stuck in the office and missing passing Puffins, not an easy bird to come across along our coast. But did see our first Pipistrelle bat of the year, at Base Camp, last night. Hope this isn't the only sighting of the year, we only saw one at Base camp all last year and that was in April. A lunchtime look over the sea wall this lunchtime didn't give us any Puffins which we'd hoped for but just about the first thing we did see other than a few white dots on the sea which turned into Gannets was a pod of about four or five Bottlenose Dolphins way out on the horizon. We called some passers-by over for a look but they were too far into the haze to be seen with the naked eye. We then saw a second pod of two or three animals, maybe more, about a mile to the north of the others. The next half hour was awesome watching them chase, charge and leap after their unseen fishy prey with a melee of Gannets and gulls above them, no skuas came in though which we thought they might given the commotion - what a way to spend your lunchtime - - lucky lucky us - so lucky we almost forgot about not seeing any Puffins! You really can't beat a bit of blubber!
Where to next? We've taken Monty round a new site for him and have a couple of pics to show you and there may be a more far flung safari in the offing, we're not sure yet.
In the meantime let us know who's leaping seriously high in your outback.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Somehow we missed all the Black Terns

The Safari could practically smell the Black Terns the other day. We had family matters to attend to on the South-side so wasn't able to get out early. News came in from far and wide of prodigious numbers of the wafty little waifs including not more than a mile from our destination. What better than to pop in to one of the sites before our visit to give Monty a run and fire off a few shots. But when we arrived the water was devoid of life bar a handful of gulls. We had a good walk round and still came across nothing of note apart from hundreds of people enjoying a lovely spring Sunday afternoon in the fresh air. We had to leave to go visiting and once home discovered that had we stayed another 30 seconds or so we'd have been in luck. Not only that one of our Twitter chums  @arborist2222 was watching several all the while we were there not 200 yards away but on the nature reserve the other side of the fence...Dohhh cruellll!!!
Not to worry there'd be some at 'our' nature reserve in the morning. There wasn't and somehow it must have been the only wetland nature reserve in England not to have any although a good number were close but passing along the coast.
Monday morning wasn't half bad though we added a couple of old friends to our Year List and while chatting to one of them a Whimbrel ((MMLNR #71) flew over. Talking of Whimbrel here's another coupl of shots from our visit to the dog toilet.
It wasn't a bad morning out on the reserve just not as spectacular as we'd hoped with the run of easterly winds. We did, however, add a new mammal to our list for the year, a Brown Rat stuffing its face in one of the feeders.
We don't mind Rats too much, we think they are often unfairly maligned but realise they can be a nightmare in some circumstances like on originally mammal-free islands - wouldn't really want one in the house though
Back at Base Camp after breakfast we took Monty round PAtch 1 and this was definitely more exciting. As soon as we hit the scrub we heard the 'tic'ing of a Silvia warbler and soon located the tic-er, a Garden Warbler (145, P1 #34) among the half open buds of a large White Poplar tree. Monty had a good run round the bottom fields where we heard a Lesser Whitethroat and up at the top near the road while he wqs sniffing with his new friends we heard a Sedge Warbler (P1 #35) fire up from one of the clumps of ornamental bushes - what a weird place for one of those!
On the way back we saw that the Nomad Bees were out enjoying the sun on the bank of our neighbours garden. With dog in one hand and camera in the other we took a few snaps. one had settled by the entrance to another species of bee's burrow, well they are a brood parasite of solitary bees.
Occasionally they would settle to bask on a sunny stone.
But when we dowmloaded the pics and had a proper look it seems we have two species here - who'd have thunk it!
The top one we think is Gooden's Nomad Bee and has a smooth black back with yellow spots, the lower one we think is Broad Banded Nomad Bee and has red dots and red stripes on its back. It could well be a job for those clever iSpotters to give a conclusive answer, if a conclusive answer can be given to this tricky group of species.
Later news broke of a Whinchat at the nature reserve so back we went. We walked across the side of the wetland to the hedge and ditch to scan and came across a couple of House Sparrows (MMLNR #72). Having a scan across the inaccessible area we soon found it but it was very distant across the far side of the wetland. Always good to see a Whinchat (146, MMLNR #74,, YBC #121)
Hopefully there would be a better view from the top path. On the way there was a Sedge Warbler pretending to be a Reed Warbler. And we disturbed a Meadow Pipit (MMLNR #75) from the damp grass.
The Whinchat was no nearer though.
At least it was now facing the front!
We had  a look at the nature reserve down as far as the scrape where we missed another three Whinchats because we didn't look hard enough at the bank behind the scrape - silly us...note to self - be more thorough in future.
There were Sedge Warblers aplenty, this one pretending to be a Willow Warbler.
 At long last we got a pic of a Whitethroat (YBC #122)
We like Whitethroats but went right off them a little later. We were back on the wetlands where the Whinchat was now much nearer, it was in the hedge the House Sparrows were in earlier. But the local Whitethroats weren't happy with it's presence in their territiory.
Milliseconds before the camera focused we pressed the shutter button and milliseconds after the image was taken the Whitethroats came in and saw it off their patch. Soooooo annoying to be so close to a brilliant shot of an absolutely brilliant bird only to blow it like that. And with them being in such short supply locally the chance of redeeming ourself is slim to remote at best. We really could kick ourselves and/or could cry!
Once the Whitethroats had done the dirty had done the dirty we could not find the Whinchat again and not for lack of trying, it seemed to have vanished up its own a*se.
The Whitethroats on the other hand appeared to gloat in their bullying.
While we were unsuccessfully looking for the Whinchat our perambulations around the wet grassland were stirring up little flies from the vegetation which attracted a posse of Swallows passing through. We had a few blasts at them more in hope than anything else.
Crikey they're quick! Which doesn't bode well for when we try to get some pics of the much quicker Swifts! All the time we were messing around getting these hopeless shots the reserve's most regular birder TS was behind us looking at a female Redstart only a hundred yards away - we really must swap mobile numbers! Not only that we also later learned that had we panned the camera round a bit more to the left the Whinchat was sat atop a Willow on the edge of one of the ponds on the wetland as it was seen well by LR who must have arrived minutes after we left.
Oh and if you're wondering if we can count or not or what happened to MMLNR #73 it was a pair of Stock Doves that we must have seen already on the barn roof where they always hang out but neglected to add to our reserve tally.
Today we had another Sedge Warbler shock when we heard one pretending to be a Garden Warbler - well it was warbling away in the works garden, only the second or maybe third we've heard there since 2004. Being on opening up duty we weren't able to get an early look at the sea but our lunchtime look was productive with four Whimbrels in a muddy hollow well down the beach. They then did something unexpected and a bit bizarre. They walked up the beach over a sandbank and up to the wall to feed in a runnel. how did they know it was there, the sandbanks are quite high certainly higher than a Whimbrel can see over. A very stealthy approach down the seawall steps allowed us to get almost close enough. We fired off a few shots and left them to their walk along the beach. Once back on the prom we heard their distinctive seven note whistle and then they were gone, off on their long journey northbound.
And so ends a good but Black Tern free couple of days wildlifing.
Where to next? More Patch 2 stuff tomorrow
In the meantime let is know who's doing a tern in your outback.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Warbletastic - and not before time

The Safari has again had a few short nips over to the sea wall and Patch 2.  The other morning we were fortunate enough to see two Linnets out the back at work. We say fortunate when in reality they are now very scarce here after being a regular breeder until the Gorse hedge got too severely hacked in our absence one year. They were seen just after a heavy shower so were probably migrants from who knows where and were feeding voraciously on Dandelion seeds. We raced down the corridor to grab the camera as they were only a few feet from the window but as is always the way they annoyingly had done a flit by the time we got back and were not seen again. Now fueled up and with brighter weather after the shower they were keen to get on their way.
By lunchtime conditions had deteriorated a bit. Looking out to sea it was as hazy as hell, focusing the scope was only possible to about 3/4 of a mile and a very cold north westerly wind was getting stronger by the minute chopping up the sea something rotten.
In the distancee to our left we could see a string of terns making their way towards us. We had to wait a while for them to reach us and in the meantime enjoyed good views of a small number of Manx Shearwaters going past and a flock of 18 Kittiwakes. just beyond the green buoy, so just about focus-on-able in the haze. Not entirely sure how we're going to get these two species on our Year Bird Photo Challenge list as even as close as that they are going to be no more tha ntwo or three pixels even with the 600mm lens.
The terns eventually turned up and the great majority of them were Sandwich Terns but interspersed where at least a dozen Arctic Terns (138, P2 #47) too. We watched them as they passed hugging the troughs to keep their slight bodies out of the head wind as much as possible.Only a couple of thousand miles to go chaps if your off to the high Arctic.
After work we met up with GB and had a mooch round the nature park near his that is also known as a dog toilet. Here we used our new Swazza bins and the first bird ever to be to be seen through them was a fine and dandy male Wheatear, nice one! Over the fenced off grassy areas Skylarks sang with gusto filling the air with their exultations. Walking down to the riverbank where the tide was well up and almost fully covering the marsh we heard then saw a Whimbrel (139, YBC #118) that had been close to the side and heard us coming. There were a couple more and one was almost obliging!
A few Swallows and Sand Martins tazzed upstream as we wandered round chatting but with the plethora of dogs running about there wasn't much bird life to be seen. From one of the pools we heard the whinneying call of a Little Grebe but didn't have a look at the other nor a proper listen at the reedbed although there was a Reed Bunting flitting around there and at least a couple of Reed Warblers singing.
With time up we headed back to the car.
Yesterday we were at the nature reserve at 06.30 and probably and hour too late. It wasn't at all bad but an hour earlier we'd have missed the dog walkers. As soon as we got through the gate at the wetland we heard a new bird for the year, a Sedge Warbler (140, MMLNR #65), it was hunkered down low in the vegetation and wouldn't show properly for a pic. A few yards further on and we heard another new bird, a Grasshopper Warbler (141, MMLNR #66) amazingly we could see it perched up almost in the open a long way off but as soon as we raised the camera for what was ever only going to be a poor record shot it flew.
It is a Grasshopper Warbler - honest
Once on the path to the nature reserve another new bird was first heard then sen when a Whitethroat  (142, MMLNR #67) started singing its scratchy tuneless ditty from the back of bush and then launched into its song flight. We'll get a pic of that when it lands we though - no it did what its old colloquial name of Nettlecreeper describes and landed in thick low vegetation never to come out again.
On we went mostly to the tune of an almost uncountable multitude if Blackcaps, it wasn't that long ago they were scarce here - not any more! Numerous they are but elusive too and we only saw one briefly so we still haven't got a pic for our Year Bird Challenge. At one point we almost got another pic of a Cetti's Warbler when one exploded int o song inches from our ear from a hawthorn bush on the 'inland' side of the path well away from the lake's edge. It showed rather well in the outer twigs and we'll probably have to wait a long time to get better views of one in our new bins. You've guessed it though, as soon as we swapped bins for camera it was off!
More Whitethroats scratched, Blackcaps fluted, Willow Warblers warbled and Chiffchaffs chiffed (and chaffed) but all from deep cover and we couldn't get the camera on any of them. In the reedbed it was obvious there were many more newly arrived Reed Warblers and some Sedge Warblers too.
At the scrape we met LR coming the other way and as we chatted a Common Sandpiper (MMLNR #68) came in to view. And then we heard a Grasshopper Warbler fire up from the island opposite us.
He went off for his breakfast and we continued round to the embankment where we heard another Grasshopper Warbler close by then another further away - four singing males great stuff! We walked as far as the bridge passing yet more loud Cetti's Warblers and more Reed Warblers and another Whitethroat was over on the island.
Turning back at the bridge and retracing our steps we now saw two Grasshopper Warblers close together at the top end of the embankment while the more distant one in the ditch and the one on the island were still reeling away at each other, a pair perhaps? 
Continuing round pastt the scrape we hoped to see the recently spotted Bullfinches in the scrub which is burtsing in to flower, no chance - are they even still here but it really does look good for them. A Lesser Whitethroat (143, MMLNR #69) rattled away from the far side of the scrub.
By now we were being plagued by dog walkers, most allowing their mutts to run around unleashed. We saw a couple more Whitethroats and in good light going back towards the car we stopped to get a pic but each time Monty was disturbed from his very 'good sit and wait' by yet another unleashed dog coming up to him and him moving and yanking our arm...very very frustrating. The adjacent caravan site needs to be a dog-free site and the Public Footpath running through the reserve needs to be moved to outside the fence, there's a perfectly suitable surfaced path going in the same destination only a few yards to the north. We don't mind dogs, well well-behaved ones at least; it's the arrogant twatty owners we don't like!
Almost out of the reserve we watched a small passage of Swallows and Sand Martins and with them was our first Swift (144, MMLNR #70) of the year. We couldn't follow it in the camera as yet another dog came passed making Monty pull at our arm. At the same time about 30 Black Tailed Godwits came in from the east and circled around a couple of times, we think they landed on the scrape but couldn't be totally sure.
Frustrated we wandered a little further and came across another Lesser Whitethroat rattling away unseen deep in the scrub.Not keeping hidden in the scrub was one of the Sedge Warblers (YBC #119) we passed on the way in and it was still showing very well in the Raspberry thicket. We stopped and snapped away.
Beautiful little thing shame it's song can't quite  be described as beautiful too!
A little further on at the edge of the wetlands we heard the Grasshopper Warbler (YBC #120) again. Again we could see it and tried to sneak round to get a clearer view. As we walked through the grass we disturbed a second from almost under our feet, Another pair perhaps? The male continued to reel away as we moved round. It was more or less in the same twigs as it was first thing. All of a sudden two weird things happened. The camera refused to find a focus point, battery was dying and for the first time ever outside Monty started barking and jumping up at our back - bonkers what was all that about? Anyway we only managed a couple of shots before the battery totally died and Monty's antics flushed the bird and this was easily the best shot we got.
A good morning out on safari but a frustrating one too.
Where to next? Strong easterly winds at this time of year mean Black Terns but we've got family duties so we hope some will stick around locally over the  holiday weekend.
In the meantime let us know who's reeling away in your outback

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Still flippin Arctic

The Safari has been on a trip up north with our birding chums from the South-side. We'd agreed to meet in the reserve car-park but only minor traffic on a Sunday morning had us due to arrive a few minutes early so we bunked into the old quarry for a quick look.
It didn't take long to find one of the resident Ravens (134, YBC #113) sat in a tree-top.
A scan of the rock face opposite had us finding the nest with four well grown almost ready to fledge youngsters in it.
The female came in to give the nippers a feed, the nest site was high up at the far end of the quarry but even at that range we could see the red gape of the youngsters with our bins. but we missed the family moment with the camera only catching the female as she left.
There was a Peregrine on a ledge too but other than that just the multitude of raucous Jackdaws. We thought we heard a Little Owl call but a chat to a regular visitor told us there hadn't been any there for a number of years.
Joining up with the gang off we went into the reserve where almost immediately a Buzzard soared low overhead being mobbed by a Carrion Crow. Wee could see it had something dangling from its beak which turned out to be a mouse rather than a worm.
Down at the first hide the light was awful with horrendous glare coming off the water and wet mud making viewing and getting pics hard work, as  you can tell from this dreadful Moorhen pic.  
There were hundreds of Black Tailed Godwits many showing their glorious brick red summer plumage, and several Redshanks
Try as we might we couldn't find the two drake Garganeys that had been present in recent days but IH spotted a small wader drop in beyond the snoozing Redshanks. It turned out to be a Green Sandpiper (135, YBC #114). This was the best we could get at the range through the tops of a clump of reeds.
A womble down to the westernmost hides didn't give us much but we did hear a Green Woodpecker on the way, appropriately enough just beyond 'Green Woodpecker field' so called as we saw one there once in about 1981 and never since but we live in hope! A Bank Vole popped out from under a fallen tree trunk where people leave food for the birds for photo opportunities, we waited a few minutes with the camera aimed at the spot but it didn't reappear. Both the hides were very quite with no sign of either the Garganeys nor any Great White Egrets which we could have done with a pic of for our Year Bird Challenge - where were they, there's always a couple or three on the reserve these days?
Retracing our steps back to the the causeway hide we had distant views of a male Marsh Harrier (135) and were constantly serenaded by Willow Warblers, Reed Warblers and a couple of Cetti's Warblers.  
From the hide the water was pretty quiet but it was good to see a couple of Pochards out there, these seem to have been very scarce locally this winter. A Cormorant flew in to sit on 'Great Black Back Gull island' (not a lot dares venture on to there) 
while a Great Crested Grebe cruised round the back
The male Marsh Harrier (YBC #115) did several distant rounds over the extensive reedbed before landing in a dead tree to our left. It sat there for several minutes before lifting off and drifting over the mere in front of us.
Continuing onward towards the next hide as we passed through the wooded area a Marsh Tit (136, YBC #116) popped up on to a pile of cut logs where a handful of mealworms had been left. 
Not far away one of the many serenading Willow Warblers (YBC #117) was in song and visible too as it worked its way through the opening foliage
We passed a few Pheasants on the way, both males and females and they all looked splendiferous in the sunshine, what amazing patterns and colours they have, even the females, when you get such close views. Other folks were practically hand feeding them they are that used to people down this trail.
At the hide we were treated to exceptional views of two Otters playing, or at least they seemed to be we didn't see them eating anything. The show went on for about 10 minutes and throughly enjoyed by everyone in the hide despite the freezing Arctic wind that was blasting through the open windows. It was lovely being out in the sunshine...but in the wind - by eck was it cold!!!
What a show but tricky to get pics of as it was hard to second guess where they would pop up next. The Heron just outside the window was a far better subject, big, close and immobile! Just how we like our wildlife to be!
All too soon we'd run out of time. The others went off for a look at the coastal marshes but we had to head back to Base Camp after a very good if chilly day out on safari with the gang.
Where to next? Back to a very windy and chilly Patch 2 no doubt
In the meantime let us know who's popping up here there and everywhere in your outback.